When our heroes falter: lessons from 3 UCLA athletes

The recent arrest of three University of California Los Angeles players in China for shoplifting, and their subsequent return to the United States, provides valuable lessons on character, humility, and taking responsibility as role models.

In October, President Trump intervened to facilitate the release of three UCLA freshman basketball players who were caught shoplifting at several stores during a trip to China for an exhibition game.

The players—LiAngelo Ball, Jalen Hill, and Cody Riley—were suspended indefinitely from the basketball team once they arrived home, and they held a press conference in mid-November to own up to their misdeeds, which could have resulted in up to 10 years in a Chinese jail, NPR reports.

Each player at the press conference admitted to stealing, apologized for their actions, and pleaded for forgiveness in what’s become an embarrassing international incident for the university and the United States.

“I take full responsibility for the mistake I have made, shoplifting,” Riley said. “I know that this goes beyond me letting my school down, but I let the entire country down.”

“I take full responsibility for my actions, and I’m sorry,” said Ball, younger brother of Los Angeles Laker Lonzo Ball.

Jalen Hill told reporters “what I did was stupid, there’s just no other way to put it.”

The students also recognized the impact of their actions on their family, friends, teammates, university, and the United States.

“I apologize to my teammates, my coaches, and my family because of how much negative attention that I put on them that they do not deserve,” Hill said.

All three students stressed that the stealing is not their origin or destiny, and vowed to learn from the experience so it doesn’t happen again.

“I’d also like everyone to know that this does not define who I am,” Ball said. “My family raised me better than that and I’m going to make myself a better person from here on out.”

While these young men are not necessarily role models for most children, as parents don’t want their kids to become shoplifters, they are role models for some, a fact that Riley addressed in a message to his younger brother at the press briefing.

“To my younger brother, Ben, this is not the example that I want to set for you,” he said. “But from here on out, I promise I will be the best role model I can be . . .  for you to look up to.”

Taking responsibility is tough, but the players’ comments show their willingness to own up to their action, to ask for forgiveness, and to enter the slow process of rebuilding trust. Children who watch their athletic heroes humble themselves learn this is the only way to grow. People who can publicly admit their failures, seek the forgiveness of those they’ve wronged, and actively seek to change are the only ones worthy of emulation.

In the book The Death of Character, University of Virginia sociologist James Davison Hunter wrote that the most essential feature of character “is the inner capacity for restraint—an ability to inhibit oneself in one’s passions, desires, and habits within the boundaries of a moral order.”

In this case, the student athletes failed by shoplifting.

But Hunter notes that “character is, in explicit ways, the embodiment of the ideals of a moral order . . . ” and the contrition and apology offered by the students illustrate their submission to a moral order they’ve violated.

This is the world we live in: one with fallible heroes who grow only by humility and taking responsibility.

Coaches looking to build strong character in students can find resources in University of Virginia’s basketball program, which coach Tony Bennett built on Five Pillars: Humility, Passion, Unity, Servanthood, and Thankfulness.

Motivation or bribery? On paying kids to show up, do better

Research into the practice of paying students to perform at school is showing mixed results, and it’s highlighting problems with an approach that relies on rewards after more than a decade in practice.

Education Week recently highlighted efforts by some schools to incentivize student attendance or performance through a variety of means, from cash to cars. The practice first gained traction following the federal No Child Left Behind Act passed by Congress in 2001, and the resulting research in both the U.S. and internationally shows results depend a lot on how programs are designed.

One of the biggest studies involved Harvard University economist Roland Fryer, who led a series of experiments through the mid-2000s that paid out over $6 million to more than 18,000 low-income students in Chicago, Dallas, New York City, and the District of Columbia in hopes of improving test scores.

According to Ed Week:

The major takeaway from Fryer’s research is that inducements are more likely to work if a program incentivizes things students feel they can control. In technical terms, that means rewarding inputs instead of outputs, said Jeffrey Livingston, an associate professor of economics at Bentley University. Students don’t necessarily know how to improve their test scores, so even if they’re motivated to try harder, that doesn’t mean they can actually do better.

“If the incentive is tied to the performance on the test, the effects are small if there at all,” said Livingston. “But if you tie it to the preparation for the test, the studying, like incentivizing reading a book or doing practice tests . . . that tends to have much bigger effects.”

In other places, similar efforts also met mixed results, though some school officials contend it’s had a generally positive effect.

The Union R-XI School District in Missouri offered students up to $100 for perfect attendance at summer school, Tennessee’s Shelby County schools offered Memphis Grizzlies tickets to students with good attendance, and the famed Success Academy charter school network has also offered small prizes like Nerf guns for good behavior.

“I think rallying around something that’s such a positive, fun way to improve attendance helps change the culture of the school,” Megan Berceau, intervention specialist at the Granite school district in Utah, told Ed Week.

Berceau said incentives like allowing students to ride non-motorized scooters to class as a reward for good attendance has kept some of them motivated.

Others, including Raytown, MO, Superintendent Allan Markley said incentives that offer something students truly want is the key. In Raytown, school officials raffled off two cars to students with top attendance.

“A lot of kids are working to support their family, a lot of them are homeless. What can we do to entice kids to come to school? They are dealing with a lot and coming to school may not be their number one priority,” Markley said. “So, what does every 16-year-old dream of? Something with four wheels, maybe?”

Incentives haven’t worked as well in many other districts, however.

Parents complained in 2015 when a New Jersey school district announced plans to award gift cards to students who showed up to take state standardized tests, for example.

Tulane University education researcher Douglas Harris contends many parents and educators oppose the incentives because they seemingly contradict the purpose of education.

“If your goal is to instill a love of learning, paying students to read books doesn’t really do that,” he told Ed Week. “It doesn’t reflect the view of teaching and learning that most educators support. They don’t want it to be transactional.”

Incentivizing youngsters to encourage good behavior using bribes, consequences, or surveillance is nothing new, and the programs in place at many schools simply formalize a process that’s been used by parents for years.

But there’s a difference between bribing students into good behavior and motivating them to do what’s right for its own sake. Parents and educators successfully instill responsible behavior when students do what’s right without incentives. The ultimate goal is to cultivate a moral autonomy that allows them to make those decisions on their own.

James Davison Hunter wrote in The Tragedy of Moral Education in America that “ . . . character education programs can work . . . when people react to the idea of acting in certain ways the way most Americans react to the idea of eating grubs.

“The right and wrong things to do should be as instinctive and as obvious as we feel food taboos to be, when the first answer to why we will do this is just ‘Well, because.’”

To develop “good sense” in students about doing right and wrong, the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues offers a lesson framework for teachers, administrators, and parents.

How to teach gratitude through journaling

A Syracuse, NY, middle school is helping to focus students on the things that truly matter.

“Having a bed to sleep in,” wrote Lincoln Middle School 7th-grader Jesse Swank in his school-provided gratitude journal.

“Having my glasses,” another entry read.

Swank is among about 500 Lincoln students who received the specially bound gratitude journals in October after a chance encounter by principal LaJuan White sparked a community-wide fundraising campaign to make it happen, Syracuse.com reports.

The idea came last summer after White had a long night helping a student and stopped in to the local Original Grain for a breakfast smoothie. While there, she noticed a “gratitude journal” on display at the downtown restaurant that encouraged customers to take a moment to chronicle what they are grateful for.

White jotted down a note and it lifted her spirits, so she tasked English teacher Marleah Tkacz with tracking down the makers of the journal, Grateful Peoples, to bring the concept to Lincoln classrooms.

Tkacz contacted Grateful Peoples founder Teddy Droseros, and he offered to sell the school journals at roughly half price—$8.00 each. White, Tkacz, and others at Lincoln then launched a fundraising drive to get journals into the hands of every student, and Original Grain was among the first to help out.

The restaurant concocted a special “gratitude smoothie” with proceeds to help the cause, and other businesses in the area quickly followed suit.

“It sounded really cool to me,” said Eric Hinman, one of Original Grain’s owners.

Urban Life held a charity spin class, and O Yoga hosted a yoga class for employees of the local marketing firm Terakeet, which raised $350. Hinman also contacted Paul Messina, owner of Apizza Regionale, to expand on the fundraising.

Messina brought several Lincoln students to his restaurant to create special “gratitude pies” that also raised $1,300 toward the project. Others from the Lincoln school neighborhood donated money as well, including one unnamed woman who dropped off a $500 check.

“It just speaks to the whole idea of gratitude,” White told Syracuse.com. “It took on a life of its own.”

Within weeks the community raised about $5,000, and Droseros rented a car, loaded it with 550 journals, and delivered them from New York City to the upstate school in person.

“It was one of the best experiences of my life,” he said. “I’m really inspired by the people in Syracuse.”

“It was really a community effort,” Droseros said.

Each gratitude journal, White said, belongs to a specific student.

“It has your name on it,” White said. “It’s very personal.”

Droseros said he created the gratitude journals and put them in public places about a year ago to encourage people to give thanks. The effort eventually turned into a nonprofit, one he hopes will now involve more collaboration with schools.

Lincoln students told Syracuse.com mornings have evolved from a hectic ordeal last school year into several minutes of quiet time to reflect on what’s most important.

“This year,” Swank, the 7th-grader, said, “it’s more peaceful and calm.”

The daily reflection is critically important because it helps students to focus their attention on gratitude, a virtue that “has enormous moral significance,” according to philosopher Laurence Thomas.

Thomas explained in The Hedgehog Review, a publication of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia, that it’s through gratitude that humans acknowledge the significance of each other to form basic social connections.

“When a person acts in good will towards another, then she or he is acknowledging that the other has moral value,” he wrote. “Gratitude is a natural response to being so treated.”

Educators and parents can begin engaging students in cultivating appreciation and gratitude with a curriculum guide from the Jubilee Centre at the University of Birmingham.

Kids say kindness is not their parents’ priority

Highlights magazine recently released its “The State of the Kid 2017” report, which focuses on “caring, compassion and empathy in the next generation.”

This year’s theme for the annual survey is kindness, and Highlights asked over 2,000 boys and girls ages 6–12 from all over the country about their perception of the world today.

When posed with the question, “What do you think is most important to your parents, that you’re happy, do well in school, or are kind?” the response was eye-opening.

Forty-four percent of students said their parents most want them to be happy, and 33 percent said doing well in school was the top priority. Only 23 percent pointed to being kind.

The results prompted Harvard University’s Making Caring Common Project to weigh in on the situation, to spotlight the apparent disconnect between what students perceive and what parents say they want, and to offer advice for parents looking to raise compassionate kids.

The Making Caring Common initiative pointed to the “Culture of American Families” report by the Institute of Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia. The study documented parents’ explicit commitment to moral character.

“The overwhelming majority of American parents (96 percent) say ‘strong moral character’ is very important, if not essential to their children’s future,” according to the Institute report.

The Highlights survey, as well as a 2014 survey of kids by the Making Caring Common Project, both illustrate a persistent “rhetoric/reality gap” that’s distorting the message to students. Much like the State of the Kid report, the 2014 survey found 81 percent of students believed their parents prioritize happiness or achievement over kindness.

From the Making Caring Common Project:

Why does this “rhetoric/reality gap” matter? When parents’ daily messages about achievement and happiness drown out their messages about concern for others, children tend not to prioritize caring and fairness in relation to their self-concerns. They’re more likely to be preoccupied with their own needs than others’ needs. When caring is not a priority, there is also a lower bar for many forms of harmful behavior, including cruelty, disrespect, dishonesty, and cheating. Not only that, the focus on happiness, and the focus on achievement in many affluent communities, doesn’t appear to increase either children’s achievement or their happiness.

The State of the Kid report shows the “rhetoric/reality gap” likely stems at least in part from the example parents set for their children. Many students told Highlights they’ve witnessed their parents or other adults acting unkindly or saying mean things, most commonly while in the car, on the phone, or watching television.

Nearly half of students said the experience made them uncomfortable, while a total of 93% reported some sort of negative reaction to adults behaving badly.

The gap between what parents want for their children, and what children perceive in practice, should serve as a call to change.

The Making Caring Common Project offers parenting tips to help focus on kindness. Teachers can share the advice with families at parent-teacher conferences structured to discuss character formation first, ahead of academic performance.

Parents and educators can also use the Project’s quiz “Are You Teaching Your Child to Be a Good Person?

Storytelling event in Wichita lures children with the call of stories

Wichita Griots, a 12-member group of storytellers, recently hosted the 35th annual National Association of Black Storytellers Festival, drawing national attention to its efforts to develop character and promote literacy through their craft.

Jean Pouncil-Burton, who founded Wichita Griots nearly a decade ago after retiring from a career as a librarian, told The Wichita Eagle the group visits local schools and other organizations to tell stories, teach character, and promote literacy.

“We tell a number of stories from folk tales to ghost stories to historical stories,” she said. “We inform, educate, inspire, motivate, uplift, and heal with our stories.”

The local group is one of 15 affiliates of the National Association of Black Storytellers, which held its annual festival at the Wichita Marriott for the first time on Nov. 8. The five-day event kicked off with a concert featuring local talent and activities that included performances by Wahoto, a children’s group; a drum line from the Bunker Performing Arts Magnet Elementary School; and a local choir called ARISE, the Eagle reports.

The events, built around the theme “The African American Story: From Chains to Wings,” continued with a series of concerts performances, dances, workshops, and contests through Nov. 12.

The festivities featured several “master storytellers,” as well as renowned drummers like Jeremie Meadows, a Georgia high schooler, and Kunama Mtendaji, a Missouri percussionist who specializes in drumming and dance from Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, and the Ivory Coast. In addition to the festival at the Marriott, Wichita Griots also guided festival participants on a tour of the city’s black history sites, including The Kansas African American Museum, the site of the Dockum Sit-In, and the Ulrich Museum of Art.

Melody McCray-Miller told the Eagle one of the most popular events is the tall tales contest, which encourages adults and youngsters to craft outlandish yarns.

“They’ll get in a mood and a groove and they’ll tell some stories,” she said.

Immersing oneself in stories, and learning to tell those stories, is an essential part of developing a moral compass and good character.

Robert Coles, Pulitzer Prize-winning psychiatrist and author of The Call of Stories: Teaching and the Moral Imagination, notes that “Novels and stories are renderings of life; they cannot only keep us company, but admonish us, point us in new directions, or give us the courage to stay a given course.”

Stories also affirm our belonging in a community, reinforcing the strength of that community. According to Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture founder James Davison Hunter in The Tragedy of Moral Education in America, “The story implicit in the word character is one that is shared. It is never a story just for the isolated individual. The narrative integrates the self into communal purposes binding dissimilar others to common ends.”

The storytellers festival provided both an opportunity for master storytellers to guide a younger generation to stay the course of good character, and encouraged youngsters to craft their own stories that will undoubtedly draw others along the same path.

How to address chronic student absenteeism in schools

Schools across the country are struggling with chronic student absenteeism, and more are now using absences as a measure of school culture in accountability reports to the U.S. Department of Education.

Education researchers believe the solution to addressing the problem requires simple steps to involve parents and the community, and are encouraging schools to move away from punitive punishments that have failed in the past.

Available data shows more than 7 million students miss at least 15 school days per year, and in nearly 10,000 schools at least 30 percent of students are chronically absent, which is typically defined as missing 10 percent or more of the school year, Education Week reports.

In the past, the measure served as an indicator that something is wrong with a student or school, and often foreshadowed future academic struggles including students being held back or failing to graduate high school.

Now, many states are ramping up efforts to address the problem by including student absences in yearly federal reports required through the Every Student Succeeds Act. The law requires states to report chronic absenteeism, but roughly three-quarters of states are including the metric as a measure of school quality in an attempt to improve academic outcomes, according to the news site.

“First and foremost, you have to show up to learn,” Angelo Gonzales, director of the nonprofit Mission: Graduate told the Albuquerque Journal. “It is also about engagement. We want kids to be present and deeply engaged in their learning.”

In Albuquerque Public Schools, for example, roughly 25 percent of high school students are habitually truant. It’s a similar story nationwide.

In Oregon, the percentage of chronically absent students statewide increased from 17.4 percent a few years ago to nearly 20 percent last year, The Daily Astorian reports.

In Oregon’s Seaside School District, 24 percent of students missed at least 10 percent of the school year, and other districts like Knappa and Jewell schools were close behind with chronic absentee rates eclipsing 20 percent.

“We know that students who attend school regularly have more opportunity to learn, so tracking chronic absenteeism is critical,” acting state Deputy Superintendent Colt Gill told the news site. “There is a direct link between high instances of chronic absenteeism and low graduation rates. This is why chronic absenteeism is one of our school accountability measures in our Oregon Plan for the Every Student Succeeds Act and why Gov. (Kate) Brown and the Legislature have invested in programs to address the issue.”

In Oregon, the state invested $7.4 million over the next two years to improve attendance and graduation rates. Other states including North Carolina are also considering absenteeism as a metric for ESSA plans.

A recent study by the N.C. Early Childhood Foundation reveals the problem often starts early in students’ academic careers. In North Carolina, one in eight elementary school students miss 15 days or more of school, Duke University professor Philip Cook and Georgetown University’s Phyllis Jordan wrote in a recent editorial for the Charlotte Observer.

But Jordan and Cook point out that solutions for getting students to come to class regularly aren’t exactly rocket science.

In one school, administrators gave teachers of first-and second-grade students prepaid cell phones to keep regular contact with parents, and encouraged educators to visit students and their parents at home at the beginning of the year.

According to Jordan and Cook:

The results of the experiment in one North Carolina school district were positive: Student absenteeism dropped by an average of 10 percent, and parents were twice as likely to contact teachers—whether through texts or calls—as parents in other classrooms.

A report from the nonprofit Attendance Works titled “Portraits of Change” highlights other relatively simple models deployed elsewhere to cut down on chronic absenteeism.

“Cleveland, for example, brought its chronic absence rate down from 35 percent to 29 percent in a year by enlisting a wide array of education and community partners. Cleveland’s attendance campaign included phone banking and outreach, incentives, professional development for teachers, and mentoring for students struggling with attendance. Long Beach, Calif., engaged the entire community, including its health professionals, in its campaign to cut absenteeism across the board,” Education Week reports.

“New Britain, Conn., deployed additional outreach workers to help cut kindergarten chronic absenteeism in half within two years. When attendance climbed in those New Britain kindergarten classrooms, so did the scores on literacy tests.”

“Chronic absenteeism, more than any academic indicator, is something parents, teachers, and the community can improve if they use data to target action and address barriers to getting to school,” Education Week reports. “Fortunately, public data will be more available than ever before for scrutiny. And the inclusion of the metric in state accountability plans brings an added urgency to getting more kids to school every day.”

The common theme of several successful efforts have focused on positive encouragement, rather than past practices such as fines, suspensions or jail time for parents of chronically absent students.

Importantly, the  most successful strategies for getting students to class require involving parents and the community as a whole in the problem-solving process. As James Davison Hunter of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture writes in The Tragedy of Moral Education in America, “Moral education can work where the community, and schools and other institutions within it, share a moral culture that is integrated and mutually reinforcing; where the social networks of adult authority are strong, unified, and consistent in articulating moral ideals and their attending virtues; and where adults maintain a ‘caring watchfulness’ over all aspects of a young person’s maturation.”

By involving family culture, school administrators are able to create a stronger school culture. Bringing parents, teachers, administrators, and community leaders together is critical for other important initiatives, such as student character education programs.

Research: Children grow up “happier” if they are grateful

A growing body of research shows that teaching children true gratitude can have beneficial health effects, while also leading to stronger relationships with others.

While parents have long pressed their children to say “thank you” as a sign of good manners, researchers contend that when kids show gratitude and actually mean it, the practice can lower stress, battle depression, improve impulse control, and lead to a more optimistic and positive outlook, Business Insider reports.

Research by Sara Algoe, Ph.D., of the University of North Carolina, explains one of the most significant keys to well-being is being able to acquire and maintain relationships. Gratitude is the glue that can bring people together as well as creating happiness from the inside out,” according to the news site.

“In her study, she calls it, ‘Find, Remind and Bind,’ citing the process of being sincere in thanks, and then getting a positive response in return, creates a stronger relationship bond with lasting side effects.”

Other research shows the benefits are both physical and mental, and include reduced depression, better impulse control for things like spending, eating, and drinking; a more optimistic and positive outlook; a stronger immune system; lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol; and lower blood pressure.

“. . . Researchers at the SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities conducted a study focused solely on gratitude interventions in treating depression and found that practices such as keeping a gratitude journal, writing a letter of gratitude, counting blessings and gratitude visits all had a powerful effect, with journals being the most effective,” Business Insider reports.

The benefits of gratitude, however, rely on sincerity.

Researchers with UNC, Duke, and NC State pointed out that children as young as six years old know the difference between genuine gratitude, and simply saying “thank you.”

“Many of the children we talked to had a lovely phrase for telling the difference between the two,” the North Carolina psychologists wrote. “They’d say: ‘She said thank you, but she didn’t mean it.’ So even at that age they are getting it—but they lack the perspective, the experience of it.”

Business Insider offered several ways parents can help youngsters develop the habit of sincere gratitude to propel them toward a happy and healthy life.

The news site suggests parents and other adults model the behavior they want kids to display, with a focus on presenting an example of sincere gratitude. Adults can also talk with children about the concept of gratitude, and explain how developing the skill within themselves can positively impact health and happiness.

Children can also develop true gratitude when the adults in their lives encourage volunteer work or other activities that illustrate why they should be grateful, such as working in a soup kitchen or helping needy families.

The research outlined by Business Insider affirms the benefits of gratitude cited by Robert H. Frank in The Hedgehog Review, a publication of the Institute of Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia.

Frank notes there is a “large body of research by academic psychologists who have studied how the emotion of gratitude affects people’s behavior.

“The general finding is that gratitude makes people not only happier and healthier but also more generous toward others,” he wrote in “Just Desserts: Why We Tend to Exaggerate Merit—and Pay for Doing So.”

Frank also pointed to evidence that people who believe gratitude is not entirely their own making are often more grateful, and more likely to show their appreciation.

“Subjects who’d been asked to recall a good event and come up with external causes—many of whom mentioned luck explicitly, or cited factors like supportive spouses, thoughtful teachers, and financial aid—gave more than 25 percent larger donations than those who’d been asked to offer internal causes to explain the good event,” Frank wrote.

Children helping the fight against leukemia

Students at St. Paul Catholic School are working to cure cancer while also building character through the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Pennies for Patients program.

According to The Weirton Daily Times:

Pennies for Patients is a three-week program for elementary and middle schools where students collect change and raise funds online while learning about service and philanthropy. Thanks to Olive Garden, Student Series’ national partner, LLS has designed a series of lesson plans for teachers to use in the classroom in response to the growing trend of making serving learning and character education part of the curriculum. The lesson plans integrate the theme of LLS’s Pennies for Patients programs into all academic areas.

“By participating, not only will kids learn about making an impact, but about leadership, teamwork, philanthropy, and what ‘doing good’ for others can mean,” said LLS’s Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia Chapter Executive Director Tina Thompson. “It’s a program that is truly meaningful because kids learn that their efforts really make a difference. As children move through their years at school, they can grow with the Student Series.”

St. Paul Catholic is among thousands of schools across the United States participating in the LLS program, which focuses on helping students set and reach goals and design programs that boost community involvement in the fight against leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease, and myeloma.

“Since it began in 1993, Student Series has helped LLS invest almost $1 billion in research to advance breakthrough cancer treatments that are saving lives today, and improving the quality of life for patients and their families,” according to the news site.

This year, elementary students at the Weirton Catholic school raised $2,006.93 for cancer research.

But the money is only one benefit of the program.

“Character reflects the affirmation of our commitments to a larger community, the embrace of an ideal that attracts us, draws us, animates us, inspires us,” James Davison Hunter wrote in The Death of Character.

The qualities of leadership and philanthropy that the students of St. Paul Catholic School are demonstrating will only grow as the students’ commitment to helping others grows.

The Student Series program is one of several programs through LLS aimed at developing good character, leadership skills, and philanthropy. Others include Collect for Cures for high school students and a Students of the Year program.

The 2017–18 Student Series campaign includes a K-5 STEM curriculum aligned with Common Core learning standards that offers teachers hands-on experiential activities and other lessons on key skills.

The Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues also offers lessons for students to think about their life’s purpose and goals, and help guide students to a fulfilling life that puts selfless service to others above pursuits of wealth, status, and power.

In one lesson, students are tasked with imagining their lives 70 or 80 years into the future, and to reflect on the things that motivated them by considering Aristotle’s vision of good character centered on courage, fairness, generosity, and other important virtues.

Alabama 5th-graders honor their heroes in a public ceremony

Fifth-graders at Alabama’s Thompson Intermediate School are becoming Super Citizens by emulating local heroes who are making a difference in their community.

For 10 weeks, students participated in the Super Citizen program run by Liberty’s Legacy that focuses on promoting civics and character education, financial responsibility, and career readiness, an experience that culminated with an assembly in early November to honor heroes impacting their lives, according to the Shelby County Reporter.

“It’s important that we start to instill those values in them now, to take pride in themselves and in their communities, because they are the future. They will be the difference in this country,” said Liberty’s Legacy spokeswoman Kelli Dodd. “They focus on how our government works, how to make a budget, the history of the Statue of Liberty and what that means, as well.”

Students took turns at the recent ceremony explaining how adults in their lives have made a positive impact, and presented them with a miniature Statue of Liberty to give thanks.

Those honored included parents and grandparents, siblings, teachers, school staff, and others.

“There are so many walks of life that are being represented today,” said TIS Principal Brent Byars at the Nov. 3 event.

One student presented a statue to local meteorologist James Spann.

“Whenever there’s bad weather, he stays up all night to keep us aware of the weather,” the student said, according to the Reporter.

Dodd said the ceremony to honor real-life heroes is key to connecting the lessons from the Super Citizens program to everyday life.

“What’s really beautiful is that they’re taking all these lessons that can be kind of abstract and global and they personalize it and make them very tangible for them,” she said.

We can’t live without heroes.

The flesh-and-blood kind in our community inspire us in unique ways. In their actions, we see how to be kind, just, patient, and courageous. And as we admire them, we imitate them—slowly learning how our heroes’ character was forged by virtuous habits.

Community heroes have an influence on children that heroes on the silver screen may not—because we know them as real people, not the digitally-retouched version of reality.

Sociologist James Davison Hunter from the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia explains the importance of character in his book The Death of Character:

History and philosophy both suggest to us that the flourishing of character rooted in elevated virtues is essential to justice in human affairs; its absence, a measure of corruption and a portent of social and political collapse, especially in a democracy. The importance of character is a part of the moral imagination we Americans have inherited, a sensibility reinforced by the lessons of history.

“The Super Citizen Program makes learning history, civics, character, financial literacy and career readiness exciting. Our immersive learning experiences teach students to become responsible, outstanding citizens,” according to the group’s website.

“Just imagine a generation of students who excel in teach-to-test subjects but have little knowledge of civics, character, financial responsibility and career readiness. Will math and science alone continue our nation’s progress? Our students deserve to learn these guiding lessons—as well as the great American Story that gives context to their important roles in our country’s future. We must teach them that they hold titles more important than ‘engineer,’ ‘scientist’ even . . . ‘president’ . . . That title is citizen.”

Kids experience football and generosity from fans who donated tickets

Students at South Knoxville Elementary School received a lesson in gratitude this month, courtesy of hundreds of University of Tennessee fans from across the country.

“Thank you for giving us the tickets. I went to the game Saturday. I liked it a lot,” second-grader Catherine Luster wrote in a thank you note. “On Saturday you did really, really good on the Homecoming game.”

Students from South Knoxville and nearby South Doyle Middle School trekked to Neyland Stadium in early November after a social media campaign called #EmptyNeyland encouraged ticketholders to boycott the Volunteers and pressure the school into firing coach Butch Jones, WBIR reports.

The boycott convinced hundreds of people from across the country to donate more than 300 football tickets to send students to the game in their place, and the kids spent their first day back at school penning thank you notes to each one of them.

“Dear UT fans, thank you for donating tickets to us,” second-grader Zachary Householder wrote. “My favorite part of the game was the dog because it was cute. The Vols scored a touchdown. It was 24-10. Vols got 24 and South Miss got 10.”

WBIR reports the young students hummed UT’s unofficial fight song, “Rocky Top,” throughout the day, sporadically singing the chorus together.

“Thank you for donating tickets to us,” Zachary’s twin brother Riley wrote. “This is my first . . . ever game and it is a game I will never forget.”

The donated tickets not only offered many students their first experience inside a college football stadium, but could also impact how the students treat others.

Robert H. Frank noted in the The Hedgehog Review, a publication of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, that there is a “large body of research by academic psychologists who have studied how the emotion of gratitude affects people’s behavior.

“The general finding is that gratitude makes people not only happier and healthier, but also more generous toward others,” he wrote.

Frank also pointed out that those who believe their good fortune is not entirely of their own making tend to be more grateful than others.

“Subjects who’d been asked to recall a good event and come up with external causes—many of whom mentioned luck explicitly, or cited factors like supportive spouses, thoughtful teachers, and financial aid—gave more than 25 percent larger donations than those who’d been asked to offer internal causes to explain the good event,” Frank wrote.

The Jubilee Centre offers lessons educators can use to build a similar sense of gratitude in their classrooms.

One lesson, “Build Your Own Virtue: Gratitude,” helps students “to think through what, when and how to practice the virtue of gratitude.”